The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul. He guides me along the right path for his names sake.
Why do good shepherds have trouble sleeping? Good shepherds can’t sleep at night, because they are busy counting lost sheep. How can you tell the difference between polite sheep and a rude sheep? The polite sheep will always say “after ewe”
Jesus said in our Gospel reading today: I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus not only tells us how to Shepherd the sheep; how to pastor, but he lays down a model for us to follow. That’s a model for every one that is called to be a priest, a rector, priest in charge, a pastor of the church; to lay down your life for the sheep.
Now that’s a hard charge. I’d like to get a 100 clergy in here and ask them point blank: Now how many of you would actually lay down your life for people in your congregation? That’s a hard charge. But, in our Gospel reading, Jesus did it, and He is our model. And, that’s who I measure up against. It’s not my duty to measure up against other priests. I’m to measure up to the example that is set before me by Jesus Christ.
So, that’s my charge as a priest: to care for the flock or the congregation of St. Alban’s Church. The good Shepherd cares for you, and He is the one that’s really in charge. Jesus is in charge, but he has delegated some of that responsibility, not all of it, to me. As your shepherd, as your priest, and I take my job pretty darn seriously.
In our first reading today in I John we are told that we know Gods love by this: That he laid down his life for us. And, we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
So, it broadens the scope. It’s not only my responsibility to care for your brothers and sisters. It’s your responsibility to care for them as well. And, it is not only my directive that you measure up to, but we are all called to follow the example set before us of Jesus as modeled in the Gospels.
I’ve got flaws, albeit not many of them. I’m darn near perfect. (Not!) But, I do have one or two flaws left, but I’m working on them really hard. But, I don’t measure myself up with how you’re doing in your caring for one another, and I don’t measure myself as to how I am doing in comparison with other clergy in the diocese. We are to compare ourselves to Jesus the Great Shepherd of our Souls. And you are to compare yourselves with Jesus as well, not each other.
And, Jesus said I am the Good Shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. In Acts we told that Jesus did lay his life down for the sheep and is the stone that the builders rejected; the chief cornerstone of the entire foundation of the church.
We’ve been talking about the church, an organic structure with moveable parts—or a church of lively stones as the Bible says. We are all lively stones being put into the structure of the Church as each stone fits. They are called lively stones, because we just don’t sit there and do nothing.
The church is an organic building. We are talking about the Body of Christ. And, within that structure Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. He is the foundation; he may which we live our lives…in the shadow of the teachings and discipleship and transformation of Jesus, and the other apostles and prophets and examples of holy men and women that have gone before us. They are the other foundation stones, and so we follow their examples too. Saints like St. Alban, Peter, Paul, James, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets of the church; with Jesus Christ as the Headstone, the capstone.
Paul goes on to say: Be careful how you build. The church is a precious thing in Gods economy. So, be careful at how you build. Build with care, caution, and love. I used to be a carpenters helper at one time in my life. I was never a very good carpenter, but I did learn how to slang a claw hammer. And, if you are careful there is a proper way to bring a nail flush with the wood. Every single nail should be that way, but if you are not careful the nail will bend and then you either have to pull it out or bang it in sideways and try to make it flush with the wood. That’s not building with care and caution. That kind of work can damage the structure and the overall appearance of the building. It is our responsibility in the church to build with care, caution and love, not with reckless abandonment.
The churches’ one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord, along with all the apostles and the prophets we build on that heritage. And, in this church, all the other priests that have gone before, have laid building blocks and made a contribution to the building up of this church, and all the saints from 1888 to the present have in their own way been lively stones, building on the labors of others and we in turn build on their work.
There’s nobody here that was in the first meeting of St. Johns in Bostonia in 1888. They are all gone. But, they have left their mark. And, it’s up to you to continue to build because you won’t be here forever either, and others will take on your work and carry-on. We talked a couple of weeks ago about how the church is always changing. If you go to the older directories of St. Alban’s many of you, especially those hat have joined the church in the past ten years, will not recognize at least half of the names or the people listed, especially if you are fairly new to the church.
And, in the future it will be the same. Students will graduate from college, get jobs in other places, get transferred out, move on, pass away, and people relocate. The face of the church is the people that are making up the church in the present tense. It’s never going to be what it used to be. But, we are instructed to build on the church of today with caution, care and love.
Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our church built on the foundation stones of the apostles and the prophets. Continue to build and add to the work of all those saints that have gone before you.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen